In 2010, I wrote a blog post discussing ethics and welfare for Public Sociology, a blog affiliated to the University of Leeds. I find reciting this blog post very timely given my recent readings regarding the power of capital flows to destabilise economies, nationally and internationally, and the safety nets that institutions such as the IMF have created for incompetent private creditors/investors, as taxpayers – especially those belonging to stigmatised and vulnerable groups – take the brunt for greedy investors’ mistakes. This is alongside the increasing clampdown on welfare claimants in the UK as Iain Duncan Smith goes all China-style in proposing the state limit how many children someone can own and still receive certain benefits.
Essentially, it draws on the work of Judith Butler and her analysis of ethics and her related concepts of ‘liveable’ and ‘unliveable’ lives:
Butler purports that we have certain assumptions about what constitutes a ‘liveable life’, that everyone is interrelated by varying degrees of vulnerability, and that this ethical interrelationship is key to making lives bearable i.e. ‘liveable’. However, the vulnerability of those who are seen as having ‘unliveable lives’ is ignored, consequently, so are ethical obligations.
With welfare claimants paying the price for a £1.5 billion bank bailout as private debt is turned into public debt, as the blog makes note of, claimants are also associated with negative, misrepresentative discourses. So-called ‘facts’ are utilised to support a neoliberal, back to basics nasty ideology that puts the blame of the market onto the public sector and those seen as ‘unliveable’ – namely defined by whether they are in work, and if they are in work how much money they are earning alongside if they claim any form of assistance. Corporate assistance is judged as meriting a ‘liveable’ life whereas any form of assistance, such as child benefit or disability living allowance, that helps ordinary people work and survive, is often viewed as a reason to define someone as ‘unliveable’ with their vulnerability and associated rights ignored and trounced on by a cabinet of millionaires:
Butler’s acknowledgement of the interrelatedness and shared experience of vulnerability is important when analysing the welfare changes from a sociological critique. Everyone is vulnerable; it is an ethical obligation for us to acknowledge this. When this vulnerability is ignored, this is when ethics are discounted. The government’s welfare proposals are clearly ignoring the vulnerability that certain groups face, as they construct their lives as ‘unliveable’ mainly because they aren’t working. When people rightfully protest against these ideological, shock-doctrine inspired cuts, people are protesting to be listened to and for this government to consider them ethically. Of course, people may not frame it like this – but utilising Butler’s arguments, you can see the clear link between ethics, respect and the right to self-determination and a life that isn’t destroyed by the ‘right’ of the State to dictate work as equating to ‘worth’.
This could be clearly shown in the recent proposals by Smith to limit child related benefits to those who have two kids. As I facetiously commented when hearing the news, unsurprisingly, the cap is ideological and inspired by the nuclear family, dogmatic back to basics rubbish. It is also demonstrates a pathological hatred towards helping those who need it, whilst rewarding those who got us in this mess. Hypothetically, what about triplets? Should the family abort? Or would it be their fault because of Social Darwinist reasons?
Again, it all comes back to this central question of whose life is valued. Pathologically, a private creditor that makes risky investments due to free capital movements (which is more than can be said about labour movement) and then capitalising on crises they help create by utilising a bailout to make money back from their bonds as taxpayers take the fall is given more worth, more respect and rights to having a ‘liveable’ life than an ordinary person trying their best to get along in a system. This system that discourages full employment, encourages false needs, endless consumption, greed and profit at the expense of comfortable, diverse and flexible employment where wages are higher and all people – irrespective of their social background – have their rights and vulnerability respected through ethical considerations of public good – not private good. As a note here, I am hoping to do a blog post soon on the idea of a bail-in that has recently risen to prominence given the cost to taxpayers from the global financial crisis.